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CoLPS: Legal Resources

This guide contains legal resources available in NU Library which supports curriculum and teaching for NU specializations.

Understanding Legal Documents

While there are a variety of types of laws that govern, there is a hierarchy to the U.S. legal system.

The Legal Pyramid

I.  Constitution

II.  Statutes

III.  Administrative Regulations (carry the same weight as statutes)

IV.  Case law (court opinions)

Types of Authority

Primary authority refers to "the law," or the constitutional or statutory provision, administrative regulation, or court opinion. 

Secondary authority refers to material that analyzes, discusses, or interprets the law. It is NOT the law itself. Secondary authority is located in legal encyclopedias, jurisprudences, and American Law Reports (ALR). Refer to the tab on Primary versus Secondary sources for additional information. 

'Authority' or 'primary authority' is divided into two types, mandatory and persuasive.  

Mandatory authority - The jurisdictional courts MUST follow the legal rule(s) set forth in the authority the party is relying on within the legal situation. 

Persuasive authority - This refers to everything else. Secondary authority is always persuasive and should not be relied upon unless there is absolutely no supportive primary authority for the party's position. 


When looking for legal materials, first determine the jurisdiction and branch of government. Who has jurisdiction (is it a Federal, state or local issue)? Then, decide if the answer can be found within a statute, court opinion (case) or regulation. Once you have determined the answers to these questions, you can look for the answer within the appropriate legal resource:

  • Cases (Federal or state case reporters)
  • Statutes (Federal, state, municipal or county codes)
  • Regulations (Code of Federal Regulations - CFR, State Administrative Codes, or Local Ordinances)

Primary Sources - the rules of law. Include the version of the Federal or state government's Constitution, statutes, court opinions (case law) or administrative regulations that those jurisdictions recognize as having what is known as "primary authority." 

While there are a variety of types of laws that govern, there is a hierarchy to the U.S. legal system.

The legal pyramid is as follows:

I.  Constitution

II.  Statutes

III.  Administrative Regulations (carry the same weight as statutes)

IV.  Case law (court opinions)

Secondary Sources - these sources provide analysis and commentary about aforementioned primary sources. These are helpful in locating and explaining the law. 

  • Legal Dictionaries
  • Legal Encyclopedias
  • Law Reviews
  • Annotated Law Reports
  • Treatises, Hornbooks and Nutshells
  • Restatements of the Law

Standard trial briefs contain the following components: 

  • Introduction - Articulates the party's claim and introduces the theory and procedural history of the case. 
  • Table of Authorities (TOA) - Describes all sources of legal authority used within the brief. 
  • Statement of Facts - Outlines all key factual elements a court should use in making its decision. 
  • Argument - Sets forth the arguments of law and addresses each legal question denoted with "point headings." These parse out the exact legal issues
  • Conclusion - Summarizes the key points and requests specific relief. 

The sections of a legal memorandum include:

  • Heading or Caption
  • Question Presented - Subject of the memo is a question: How does the relevant law apply to the key facts? This question is analogous to the issue presented within a case brief. The question should be narrow and objective. 
  • Brief Answer - This section responds to the question presented. It begins with the conclusion: yes, no, probably yes, etc., if the question can be answered as such. Provided a brief explanation for your reasoning. 
  • Facts - This section should provide a formal and objective description of the legally significant facts in your problem. These are the facts that are relevant to answering the legal question presented.
  • Reasoning/Discussion - This section will thoroughly discuss the applicable legal principles, illustrate how they apply to the relevant facts, and where you'll explore any possible counterarguments. Use the "CRRACC" method as a guide: 
    • Short thesis paragraph = C - Briefly restate the question and answer.
    • Introductory paragraph =
      • Provide a map/framework of the discussion, including the statement of the synthesized rule;
      • Provide background regarding the general rule;
      • Explain policy reasons underlying the rule;
      • Explain exceptions to the rule;
      • Explain policy reasons underlying any possible exceptions
    • In-depth explanation of the rule = - Discuss how the rule has been applied within other cases
    • Application of law to facts  = A - Analogize and distinguish other cases 
    • Counterargument C - Discuss and resolve any counterarguments
    • Conclusion  =  - Answer the question presented
  • Conclusion - Summarize your analysis to the question presented. 

Example of Caption:


Additional Resources

CUNY School of Law - Office Memo Format and Explanation

CUNY School of Law - Sample Memo